Cool little conifers make great holiday gifts

Even though I miss the long, bright, sunny and warm days of summer, I absolutely love this time of year. Our winter holidays always help me through the darker, colder and wetter months in the Pacific Northwest. Families tend to have traditions of coming together for the special winter holidays, and friends, whether old or new, make plans to enjoy each other’s company as well.

Container gardens are perfect for those folks with very small spaces.

One of the best traditions of the holiday season is gift-giving. Of course the kinds of gifts I love to give generally have something to do with gardening and most often, I must admit, my gifts tend to be dwarf or miniature conifers. Most everyone enjoys spending at least a little time in the garden. Even those who may not have the initial interest or confidence for gardening generally find that once they have a nice little conifer to care for, they become intrigued and their interest in gardening grows.

I have quite a number of friends that were once generally unaware of the joy of gardening and simply had no idea whatsoever how much fun gardening with dwarf and miniature conifers can be. Some of these friends have gone on to become quite interested in developing their gardens and in the conifer world, while others limit themselves to a much smaller scale with plants in containers on their deck or patio. Part of the fun for me is giving a gift of a small conifer or two and then seeing interest and passions grow over the years.

Miniature gardens can be created by adding miniature accessories to the container garden. Not all miniature gardens need to feature fairies, though they do seem to enjoy little gardens that are just their size.

Sometimes I’ll give a complete container garden already planted. Other folks have received a miniature garden kit with a selection of a few plants, a bag of potting soil and a nice ceramic pot so they may plant it up the way they like. I love to see young families become interested in gardening and one great way to encourage that behavior is the gift of a container garden that they may all plant together and enjoy.

Colorful little conifers add year-round interest to your favorite pots and they make great gifts and bring life to a cold and drear winter.

Container gardens are great for smaller spaces and most anyone has space for at least one. Some of my container gardens, which feature a few of my smallest miniature conifers, are placed strategically along the paths and among larger plants in the garden. I like to move some of my containers from the back patio to the front walk during the holidays so that I can decorate them with small lights and ornaments (which has the added benefit of making my wife very happy).

You might consider dwarf and miniature conifers for your gift-giving this holiday season. I have a few new friends that may be perfectly suited for a conifer surprise gift sometime in the next month or so—maybe you do too!

Conifer Lover

Magical Match

Like love at first sight, today’s two little conifers seem to be a perfect pair for the miniature garden. Names like, ‘Hobbit’, ‘Pixie’, ‘Oberon’, ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and even ‘Rainbow’s End’ all suggest whimsical characters of fairy tales and folklore, and that certainly is the case with my two selections of mini-conifers today.

Inspired by the literary fairy tale, Thumbelina, by Hans Christian Andersen, Picea abies ‘Thumbelina’ is a tiny little sweetheart with short green needles which completely cover this slow growing little mound. When purchased in one of those cute little pots available at your favorite independent garden center, ‘Thumbelina’ can grow for many years in a miniature garden before overstaying her welcome.

‘Thumbelina’ is a delightfully slow growing conifer with tiny green needles covering the bun-shaped plant.

One of the most popular and reoccurring species of magical creature described by many authors for literally hundreds of years is the Elf. Perhaps most widely known are Santa’s Elves working at the North Pole, or the Elves of Tolkien’s stories of Middle Earth, but even Harry Potter inherited a House Elf.

This tiny ‘Elf’ is an enchanting addition to any kind of miniature garden.

Picea glauca ‘Elf’ is one of the smallest, slowest growing and all around cutest of the miniature mutations originating from the Dwarf Alberta Spruce. Tiny, thin, grass-green needles cover the small, half-dome, globe-shaped plant. Absolutely perfect for miniature theme gardens of any kind, ‘Elf’ is a magical match for ‘Thumbelina’ and when grown in a container, or any type of miniature garden, they complement each other nicely and play well with other miniature plants in combinations to satisfy every gardener.

Container gardening is a great choice for folks without a lot of space. As full-fledged miniature gardens become more popular, very slow growing, colorful, miniature conifers should find new homes in more places around the world. Consider giving a miniature conifer or two as gifts this holiday season – or using them in your own decorating – I know I will.

Conifer Lover

Conifer Couples

In my last post, I promised to introduce you to a pair of cute little conifers that I am confident you will want to collect and grow in your own gardens. Now, if you are at all like me, you have become completely enamored with miniature conifers – the ones that are described by the American Conifer Society as growing less than one inch per year. To be honest though, my definition of mini-conifers does expand a bit and includes some “dwarf” cultivars that grow up to around 2-3 inches per year – which is still pretty darned slow-growing and the plants remain very small for a very long time.

The cute couple that am honored to introduce to you this post are both tiny forms of Picea abies, the Norway spruce. Growing three feet per year when young and eventually reaching heights near 200 feet, the Norway spruce is a native forest tree growing in colder regions throughout Europe. An excellent tree—healthy, hardy and vigorous—it has been cultivated far from its native range. There are hundreds of unique mutations which have been discovered, named and collected in gardens for many years. Over the past 50 years, many of these new cultivars, have begun to be propagated by nurseries because of the plants usefulness in contemporary landscapes. As garden spaces have grown smaller, so have many of the plants that are commercially available.

Picea abies ‘Jana’ looks to me like the top of a human head protruding up from the soil.

Dwarf and miniature conifers are perfect plants for use in container gardens, miniature gardens, fairy gardens, railway gardens and rock gardens because they grow slowly and remain small for a great number of years. The selection of plants becoming available to local independent garden centers continues to grow, making it possible to create a garden filled with an exciting collection of these diminutive beauties much more quickly than just 15 or 20 years ago. As more folks are becoming interested in miniature gardens, more of these tiny plants, once only found as rarities in devoted collector’s gardens will become available so that regular folks may enjoy them in their own gardens.

Without any further ado, I introduce to you, ‘Jana’ and ‘Jessy’!

Picea abies ‘Jana’ is a very slow growing, mounding, dense bun with relatively long, rich green needles which radiate outward, encircling each small branch. Annual growth looks to average close to half an inch or just about 1.5 centimeters in length. I do see some random shoots of up to an inch on my plant from time to time, but I tend to snip those few oddballs off to keep my plant tidy. The largest specimen of Jana that I can remember seeing reminded me of the top of a large human head, from just about the eyebrows and the top of the ears, protruding above the ground as if the rest of this unlucky fellow was standing, buried under the soil. Growing at less than one inch per year, you can do the math to estimate the size of your new plant in 10 or 20 years.

Prominent orange-tan buds adorn the already ultra-cute Picea abies ‘Jessy.’

Picea abies ‘Jessy’ appears to me to grow slightly slower than ‘Jana’ with its overall appearance being smaller. Very tiny, dark green, glossy needles cover very small, thin, light colored branches. At the terminal of each small branch is a prominent, orange-tan bud cluster. At first I thought to describe the buds as being large, but upon close inspection I determined that the buds are close to the same size or slightly smaller than that of ‘Jana’. The tiny shoots and needles make the buds appear larger and they really do stand out as a prominent feature on this fascinating little plant.

These two miniature conifers make a delightful pair and may be grown together as part of a miniature garden of any kind. I like seeing these two planted together in miniature theme gardens because although they grow at similar rates, they are very different from one another due to the details of their features. I hope you will give them both a try in your own garden. They are both hardy to Zone 3 and will thrive in full sun with moist, well-drained soil.

I’ll have two more “minis” to share with you next time!

Conifer Lover

Mighty mini conifers!

After our unusually long, and beautifully warm and dry summer, the autumn season has turned on like as if someone flipped a switch. Temperatures have dropped twenty five degrees and the rains have begun. This past weekend saw record-breaking rain accumulation throughout the Pacific Northwest combined with strong wind. Something about this sudden change of weather has had an impact on my plant focus.

Throughout the past several months I have had many opportunities to work in my garden. Working outdoors, breathing in the fresh, summery air, listening to all of the local critters flutter and scurry about while under the protective shade of the large trees that surround my property influenced some of my gardening and new plant choices. Having the opportunity to spend so much time in the wide open space seemed to have widened my interest in adding a few larger, faster growing conifers to my garden (not that I have space for any more large trees). I also expanded upon my use of larger annual flowers and vegetables which I interspersed among the conifers and other ornamental plants.

Tiny, slow-growing conifers are perfect for containers. The are full of color, texture and character and play well with other cool miniature plants.

I planted a small forest of Sunflowers to provide shade for a few of my more light sensitive conifers, and that strategy worked very well at protecting them from the intense summer sun. We even enjoyed harvesting Nerf football-sized melons from long vines that covered the ground, filling in spaces between conifers. But, as the seasons have changed, and I have retreated back indoors with a more limited view of my garden, so too has my plant focus changed from larger plants to delightful, miniature conifers.

The primary view of my garden through the cooler, wetter, winter months, features many of  the containers on my patio. Dwarf and miniature conifers are perfect for containers gardens since the take many years to outgrow their space. One container in my garden comes to mind that I originally planted six years ago, and in that time only one conifer in that grouping has been removed and transplanted into the garden. The three minis that remain continue to enjoy their prominent place on my patio.

Small, colorful conifers and other exciting ornamental plants make excellent year-round fillers for your favorite containers.

As I was recently sitting in my favorite chair near the wood stove, gazing out into the rainy garden, my eyes naturally focused on my containers and I was instantly taken in by the tiny conifers that I have collected over the years. As I was sitting there, it struck me that many of the containers consisted of “conifer couples” — pairs of tiny conifers that shared a theme of one kind or another. For example, ‘Jana’ and ‘Jessy’ shared a container while, ‘Thumbelina’ and ‘Elf’ happily reside in another. This has inspired me to post a series featuring some of my favorite  tiny conifer couples.

Stay tuned, next time I’ll introduce you to two cute little conifers, that it you’re like me, you will find them irresistible and not be satisfied until you find them both for a special place in your own garden.

Conifer Lover

Checkers, anyone?

I have been watching a relatively new conifer for several years now. When I had my first encounter, I thought the specimen was nice, but it didn’t jump out and grab my attention like some plants have over my lifetime. Now that I have observed a few specimens growing in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden for the past five years, I must say that I am quite enamored with Picea pungens ‘Waldbrunn’.

This unique form of Colorado spruce is definitely a dwarf, growing an average of 3-4 inches per year. Its needles seem to be in perfect scale with the size of the plant – not growing too long or too short – they are stiff and sharply pointed as one might expect with this species of spruce. Growing with a low, spreading, mounding habit, ‘Waldbrunn’ can fit into today’s small landscapes and yet be an attractive and useful addition to larger gardens. Its unique, steel blue color sets it apart from other dwarf spruce choices. The Nest Spruce types are dark, rich green in color while other dwarf Colorado spruce forms are usually a brighter, more powder blue.

Picea pungens ‘Waldbrunn’ is a Low-growing, spreading, compact plant with unique blue color.

Recently I was talking with a friend about a gardening challenge that he was trying to solve in a portion of his back yard. His neighbor’s property must be a full 15 to 20 feet above the house-level of his back yard. There is quite a steep, tiered slope which makes the transition from the neighbor’s property down to the more level ground of my friend’s place. There is a good amount of rockery which lends to the nicely layered tiers of planting spaces but, toward the top, near the border is a partially open slope that had been planted with a combination of Tam juniper and English ivy. Over the years, several of the Junipers have died and the Ivy has made a strong attempt to take over as much real estate as possible. My friend has been working hard to eliminate the Ivy and desires to replace it and the remaining junipers with something more attractive.

Picea abies ‘Elegans’ is a slow-growing, spreading, green mound.

I thought it might be fun to create a “checkerboard” effect with Picea pungens ‘Waldbrunn’ and Picea abies ‘Elegans’. ‘Elegans’ is a medium green color which pushes early in the spring with very bright green new foliage. It is also a slow growing, mounding, spreading form. Planting several of these, along with ‘Walbrunn’ in a checkerboard pattern along the top sloping area will create a fun, low maintenance solution to my friend’s problem. To ensure success, he will install drip irrigation so that each of these new plants will receive ample water – even on this steep slope. In many years, the plants will spread and begin to mingle creating less of a checkerboard and more of a mottled, colored tapestry which will hold the ground and prevent erosion, all while providing a lovely garden conversation piece.

Conifer Lover